NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 30, 2004

Someday soon, prescription weight-loss drugs will be a hugely profitable business, and Medicare's decision to designate obesity as an illness may spur pharmaceutical companies to research and develop such drugs, says journalist/author Daniel Akst.

While Medicare does not currently pay for weight-loss medication and will not do so under its coming prescription drug plan, the costs of obesity-related illnesses could change that:

  • The government puts the economic cost of obesity at $117 billion a year, and cites estimates of 300,000 or more deaths annually.
  • Annual spending on prescription weight-loss drugs in the United States is $350 million, but that will climb to $1.7 billion by 2010.
  • Spending on weight-loss drugs still pales in comparison to the $13 billion that is spent on cholesterol-lowering drugs.

The best answer to the obesity problem may be more research to produce weight-control drugs, and Medicare and private-insurance coverage of such drugs could hasten that research. Paying for such drugs would be expensive, but it might even reduce health care spending in the long run by preventing illnesses associated with obesity, like diabetes and heart disease, explains Akst.

Source: Daniel Akst, "Shedding Pounds With Medicare," New York Times, July 25, 2004.


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